Critics slam ‘dangerous’ Rakhine report

Shame on you all…Racist Rakhines and Mr song bird Mr Heizman. You R not qualified to write a report, just go and fly kite while singing on the Rakhine beach.

Critics slam ‘dangerous’ Rakhine report By Bill O’Toole   |   Friday, 02 August 2013

A report on the conflict in Rakhine State that advocates for 800,000 Muslims to be expelled to Bangladesh generated heated debate at its launch on August 1, with some dismissing it as “rubbish” and others warning it could inflame tensions.

The Arakan Human Rights and Development Organization released the “Conflict and Violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar” report at Central Hotel in Yangon on August 1.

The report says the Muslims of Rakhine State should be denied citizenship and advocates for what it calls a “population exchange” to resolve communal conflict that has left almost 200 people dead.

The exchange would see Rakhine State’s 800,000 Rohingya, or Bengali, residents sent to Bangladesh in exchange for an equivalent number of Buddhists.

No Rohingya appear to have been interviewed during the research or writing of the report and its lead author, Rick Heizman, faced some angry comments during a discussion session after the launch.

“We should dismiss this report for the rubbish that it is,” a PhD student in Southeast Asian history declared at the launch.

“The exchange of people from Arakan to Bangladesh does not make sense. Are you also going to exchange African Americans like [US President Barack] Obama back to Africa?” asked one Myanmar aid worker. “I think co-existence and peaceful dialogue is better – not the hatred you spread in press conferences.”

A diplomat from the German embassy said the report was “very dangerous … It’s not a report we can take seriously”.

“I just want to underline: Listening to you and reading the report I get the impression that your report is one-sided and over-simplifies the problem in Rakhine to a conflict between Buddhists and Muslims,” she said.

U Aung Marm Oo, an executive director of the organisation, agreed during the question and answer session that the report was one-sided – but in a positive way. “It’s the Rakhine side of the story that has been ignored,” he said.

Mr Heizman also faced numerous questions about his academic credentials but dismissed these by saying that it “doesn’t matter right now”. When pressed after his presentation, he said: “My credentials are that I’ve been here many times.”

The questions were likely prompted by what biographical details are available online. An interview with Mr Heizman on the website Thingsasian.com says he is from New York City but lives in the San Francisco Bay area and holds a Bachelor of Arts in music composition and guitar from San Jose State.

“Rick feels that Burma is a great country, people and culture to be concerned about, and the government there needs to be disposed of. On his yearly visits there, he maintains ties with cherished friends and is discreetly involved with the political opposition,” the article said.

As of this year he maintained a profile on Baymusic.com, where musicians wanting to play weddings and corporate functions can post their contact details.

Despite the criticism, the views expressed in the report reflect those of at least some officials in the Rakhine State government. In a recent interview with The Myanmar Times, government spokesman U Win Myaing described the Rohingya population as “illegal Bengalis” who should be forced from the state.

Like Mr Heizman, U Win Myaing talked at length about the bias against Rakhine people in Western media and in the aid community, singling out the United Nations and Human Rights Watch. “They have a pro-Muslim bias,” he said.

He said that reports of police and military brutality and squalid conditions in camps for Muslims displaced by conflict had been fabricated by Islamic extremists.

He also suggested that most of the Muslims displaced by last year’s violence had burned their own houses down in order to both damage Rakhine homes in the area and get nicer homes from UN agencies.

Phil Robertson, the Asia director at Human Rights Watch, described these claims as “ludicrous and without merit”.

“He’s just repeating extremist Rakhine canards that have been put out by the government and community leaders ever since the violence in June last year. No one believes these claims, and repeating them just make him look foolish,” Mr Robertson said.

“Any comparison … will show that [the Rohingya] have hardly gained by being confined to IDP camps without livelihoods and deprived of access to education, health and other basic services,” he said.

“Human Rights Watch has no bias whatsoever against the Rakhine people. U Win Myaing is playing ‘shoot the messenger’ because he has so few facts on his side and doesn’t like the fact that we have proven ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity were committed last year in Rakhine state.”

Chris Lewa, head of the Rohingya advocacy group The Arakan Project, declined comment directly on U Win Myaing’s comments, calling them “too ludicrous to respond to”.

“This kind of denial in the face of the truth,” she said, “will only make peace in Rakhine harder to achieve.”

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